ROCKY RIVER, Ohio -- A swashbuckling Pirate triple just moments before the final buzzer brought Tuesday's Great Lakes Conference battle between Rocky River and Normandy to a dramatic conclusion. With junior Robby Lang hitting that 3-pointer and scoring nine of River's final 10 points, the Pirates defeated the Invaders, 57-56.
The Maroon & White leveraged an impressive fourth-quarter comeback in levelling their overall and conference marks this season, and the victory was River's fifth straight at the Corner of Wagar & Deroit. For the Pirates (7-7, 5-5 GLC), the contest also marked the team's second dramatic win this season over a talented Normandy five. On Dec. 11 in Parma, Rocky River earned a 70-63 overtime win against the Invaders. That game was also of the comeback variety.
Tuesday's renewal of what has been a closely contested GLC rivalry in recent years was a hard-charging, heart-stopping thriller. A dramatic Pirate-Invader battle with the clanking swords of determined momentum swings and cannon fire of roundballs launched from distance and finding nylon on their decent. Both teams displayed an array of skills up and down rosters in a tussle that also featured all-out hustle dives and gutsy plays made by players both with and without the basketball.
"Guys kept flying around getting stops, and we finally got some shots to go at the end," said Head Coach Mike Murray, whose Pirates are now 5-2 at home. "I am really proud of our effort. Our guys showed tremendous heart."
Normandy (9-4, 5-2) -- which had gone 8-1 since falling to the Pirates in December -- three-bombed its way to a 15-2 run to close out the opening half of play with a 39-28 lead. Points 37, 38, and 39 came on the #second# buzzer-beater of the evening at Rocky River Gymnasium (the Pirates won Tuesday's JV contest on a last-second shot). The Invaders were hot from distance in the second quarter, and their 11-point halftime lead came just six minutes after trailing by eight (22-14).
Tremendous interior defense flummoxed a River offense which had a slew of shots blocked in the first half and perhaps several more hurried or contested into the miss column of the box score.
In the third quarter, a brief Pirate rally was snuffed out and when senior forward Stefan Stanic drained a trey at the two-minute mark, the Normandy lead was 14 (49-35).
Ten minutes remained in the game. The Invaders would score just seven more points.
At the 4:30-mark of the fourth, the River deficit was still 13 points (54-41). A minute later, a 3-pointer got the home side going. The next five points scored were a 3-for-2 exchange in the Pirates' favor, and at the three-minute mark Rocky River trailed by nine (56-47).
The final three minutes evolved into a mix of Normandy misfires from the free-throw line and a remarkable game of around-the-world for Robby Lang. The Invaders would struggle to convert from the line in the fourth. At 2:16, Lang -- who entered the game as a 41% (13-of-32) shooter from beyond the arc -- knocked down a 20-footer from the left corner, and the River deficit was six (56-50). At 1:41, the second-year letterman drained a triple from the top of the key, and the Pirate deficit was three (56-53). After a couple more Normandy misses at the line and one free-throw toss converted by senior guard Charlie Hudson, the River deficit stood at two (56-54).
Seconds ticked away during tense play, with Rocky River frantically trying to steal away Normandy possessions and the Invaders successfully denying buckets in the defensive end. Then, with 25 seconds remaining, Braedon Spies came up with a monster steal on a mid-court double-team with Tommy Bebie. Rocky River took possession of the ball and called timeout.
After the timeout, Charlie Hudson brought the basketball up the floor. As the clock winked down past the 10-second-mark, a well-covered Hudson got a return pass at the top of the key and then found Lang backing out on the right flank. With five seconds showing on the gymnasium scoreboard, the soon-to-be Pirate hero released on a rainbow projectile headed for the goal.
Lang's final look found twine. A 57-56 Pirate lead! A desperate scramble ensued for the Invaders, and Stefan Stefanic did manage to loose a half-court shot as time expired. Stefanic's shot rimmed in and out with a kiss of the backboard in between.
Lang was mobbed by teammates at mid-court, his "triple-triple" complete: three 3-pointers keying a 10-0 run to close out a hard-fought Pirate win.
Lang finished the game with 13 points, joining Hudson (15) and Spies (14) in double figures. As a team, Rocky River drained a season-high 12 threes in a 12-of-29 (41.4%) effort. The Pirates had entered the game slumping from distance, having made just 20-of-their-previous-76 (26.3%).
Tuesday's contest marked the first in a busy, three-game week for the Pirates. Rocky River is scheduled to host Holy Name on Friday and Brunswick on Saturday. The Sons of Blackbeard are hoping the three games make for as impressive as a triple as they saw hoisted in the waning moments of Tuesday's tilt.
CANNON FIRE ...
FROM THE BUCS SCORE: Senior forward Patrick Lange tied a single-game career-high with seven rebounds. ... Braedon Spies registered six steals in the game and now has 12 over his last two contests. Spies' 10th point of the night marked the 300th of his career. ... Robby Lang went 5-for-8 from the field. Over the team's last eight games, Lang is shooting 56.6% (43-of-76). ... Charlie Hudson has scored 52 points over Rocky River's last three games. For the season, Hudson is averaging a team-high 13.2 points per game.
A FIRST WITH A BURST: With Tuesday's comeback victory, River earned consecutive wins for a first time this winter. ... With the 57-56 win in the books, Rocky River is now 2-3 this season in games decided by one possession.
CLOSE CALLS: Five of the last six Rocky River-Normandy games have been decided by four points or less or gone into overtime. ... Since 2012, RRHS is 11-2 against Normandy. That stretch now includes four straight wins for the Pirates.
by Skip Snow
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